Sex, fraud, retaliation: ‘Pervasive misconduct’ found at US Census Bureau

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Employees at the US Census Bureau’s hiring office cost the taxpayers over $1 million by falsified time cards, broke rules by hiring friends and family, and threatened whistleblowers who reported them, government inspectors have found.

At least nine employees of the Bureau’s Census Hiring and Employment Check (CHEC) office engaged in “pervasive misconduct over several years,” says a report by the Office of the Inspector-General (OIG) for the Department of Commerce, the Bureau’s parent agency, citing “widespread time and attendance abuse, misuse of office, and repeated attempts to retaliate against a perceived whistleblower.”

The OIG investigated 40 current and former employees, finding a “systemic pattern of time and attendance abuse” by the “significant portion of the CHEC Office since the start of the decade.”

Between 2010 and 2014, CHEC employees claimed at least 19,162 hours they never actually worked, the inspectors found. One employee charged the government $85,000 in wages for 890 hours never worked. Another collected nearly $65,000 for 1277 falsely claimed hours. Altogether, nineteen employees of CHEC had “discrepancies of over 400 hours” over a four-year span, the inspectors wrote.

The OIG issued its report on September 14, but it drew notice from only a handful of news outlets – notably the conservative-leaning Washington Times and the Washington Examiner.

CHEC is the office within the Census Bureau responsible for hiring and background checks of permanent and temporary employees, including the census-takers that collect information about Americans once every decade. Government inspectors found that fraud and abuses extended to those areas as well.

For example, one employee was involved in the background check and hiring process for a contractor they were in a sexual relationship with. The same person also tried to influence Census Bureau managers to hire a friend’s son. The OIG report does not identify employees by name, and has also noted the gender pronouns have been switched around to protect their identities.

Upon discovering that they were under investigation, CHEC employees threatened retaliation against whoever reported them to the OIG. One employee repeatedly referred to the whistleblower as a “rat” and a “snitch” in meetings, the OIG report said. At a company social event, the same person was cutting a cake and made a stabbing motion they said was for “who went to the OIG.”

The employees implicated in the report have been placed on administrative leave pending further action, Census Bureau director John Thompson said in a statement.

"The employee misconduct detailed in the recent Department of Commerce Inspector GeneraI's report is inexcusable and will not be tolerated," Thompson said."Any employees who allegedly falsified timesheets and betrayed the trust of the American public will be held personally accountable to the fullest extent of the law, including possible termination."

Though the OIG informed the authorities of the investigation’s preliminary findings in April 2015, the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland declined to press charges against the nine individuals. They are currently still employed by the Census Bureau.